Hidden iPhone File Records Your Location Coordinates

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That iPhone of yours has apparently been storing your whereabouts to a file that gets backed up every time you synchronize your phone with iTunes. The same happens if you’ve got a 3G-enabled iPad, too.

As detailed in a post on O’Reilly Radar, two developers discovered the following:

“All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called ‘consolidated.db.’ This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren’t always exact, but they are pretty detailed. There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there’s typically around a year’s worth of information at this point.”

Note that this is not the first time this “consolidated.db” file has raised a few eyebrows, as reports from as early as September onward have been voicing similar concerns. But these developers are presenting their findings at the big Where 2.0 location-focused conference, which ought to drive plenty of additional exposure to the issue.

The developers point out that the data being collected doesn’t appear to be sent anywhere, but they contend that “why this data is stored and how Apple intends to use it — or not — are important questions that need to be explored.” Check out the above video for more info.

There are several iPhone apps that use your location data, but you’re always asked for your permission first. My initial thought when reading this article was that this “consolidated.db” file may simply be some sort of just-in-case repository for your phone to access when you agree to let certain apps access your location. But it appears that even if you’re dead set against your phone collecting your location information, it’s doing it anyway.

And, of course, your location data is never really secret given that your service provider can triangulate your position between its own cell towers. But as these developers point out, “it takes a court order to access it.”

If you have a Mac, you can use a tool that the developers have cobbled together to view the information your phone’s collected so far. And you can choose the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” option in iTunes (Mac or Windows) to at least add a little security to this otherwise unprotected file that gets transferred from your phone every time you synchronize it.

Other than that, though, there doesn’t actually appear to be any way to prevent this data collection from happening.

More on TIME.com:

Weakness in Skype Android App Can Expose Your Personal Info

Cyber Criminals Turning to Social Networks and Cell Phones

Apple Shares Your Location With ‘Partners and Licensees’